The rise and fall of the most famous club in New York City is the subject of Matt Tyrnauer’s latest feature documentary, Studio 54.

A riveting tale about how two friends from Brooklyn, Ian Schrager and Steve Rubell, went on a mission to create the ultimate nightspot in the late 1970s.

Celebrities, sex, drugs and disco music were the ingredients that brought the masses to the roped-off entrance every night, and it was all down to the no holds barred ambition of these two founding members.

The film opens with Schrager today, signing off stills for a glossy book about his former club. Almost forty years on, he says it is only now that he feels ready to talk about what happened at his most notorious business venture to date.

Chronologically told, the film charts the duo’s journey from initial concept to hedonistic peak, to its fall from grace and finally, its ultimate demise.

Ian Schrager, who was just twenty-nine at the time, was the backroom guy who worked obsessively to produce bigger and more outrageous sets and stage acts. Rubell, who himself was only thirty-three, was front of house and a one-man PR machine. Archive footage shows Rubell enjoying the limelight, and the power, of hand-picking people from the frenzied crowds outside of the club, desperate to get in.

A glitteringly diverse crowd was part of the strategy and the owners sought out those traditionally excluded from society’s mainstream. On any given night you could find octogenarians, drag queens, waiters and celebrities, all mixing and dancing together. Wealth didn’t buy you status at Studio 54. As long as you fitted into the decadent vibe, you too could rub shoulders with the likes of Michael Jackson, Bianca Jagger and Andy Warhol.

Very quickly the non-elite, elite club, that vigorously courted celebrities became legendary, as was the door policy which was both random and at times, mocking. Old news reports show bemused would-be clubbers knocked back from the super-club, some of whom had been turned away on one night, and then not another.

Access to the surviving inner circle and the people involved in the club’s closure, gives the documentary its grit and authority. Despite arrogance, vanity and eventual hubris all being present, the film doesn’t judge.

Contributors appear at ease reflecting back on the disco-enterprise and their involvement. As a result, Tyrnauer is able to draw a poignant picture of human nature with all its passions and foibles laid bare.

As the story unfolds, the Director doesn’t pull back from more probing questions about the business side of the operation and, to his credit, his interviewees respond freely. A couple of moments suggest some secrets may remain within the ‘studio family,’ but the fact these are left in the film, only adds to its charm and clout.

The documentary cleverly weaves several narratives; a study of two young men driven to be the best in the business – whatever the cost, a salute to an era defining institution and a memoir of a bygone time of freedom and sexual liberation, post the pill and pre-HIV-AIDS.

Studio 54 is an intoxicating mix of music, friendship, power and celebrity, told by the people who made it happen. A must-see film for anyone who cares about music and enjoys slick storytelling with a journalistic edge.

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